Next step for Eagles is trip to Super Bowl

The Eagles are hoping they can finally get over the hump and into the Super Bowl.

Updated: September 3, 2004, 10:49 AM ET
By David Weinberg | Pro Football Weekly

Editor's note: These previews were last updated Sept. 2 and don't reflect any moves made by the team after that.

The Eagles are hoping the fourth time is the charm.

After three straight losses in the NFC championship game, they made some daring offseason moves in hopes of finally reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1980 season.

The Eagles abandoned their conservative approach to free agency and came away with two of the biggest names on the market in DE Jevon Kearse and WR Terrell Owens and also added two more starters in OLB Dhani Jones and rookie ORG Shawn Andrews.

They decided against re-signing a number of key players and leaders such as CBs Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, RB Duce Staley and OLB Carlos Emmons and also lost top RB Correll Buckhalter to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason but are still expecting to be in Jacksonville, Fla., in February.

Quarterbacks: All of the additions and subtractions won't matter unless they get a solid effort from Donovan McNabb. He overcame a shaky start and a thumb injury last season to re-establish himself as one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. He is in the midst of the best preseason of his career and has also matured into a strong if somewhat quirky leader. Koy Detmer missed most of the preseason after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery but is highly regarded by head coach Andy Reid as a reliable backup. Jeff Blake was signed as insurance against injury and to ease the pressure on rookie Andy Hall. Grade: B-plus.

Running backs: One of the strengths is now a question mark. Buckhalter's torn patellar tendon was a major setback. Dorsey Levens was added to take some pressure off Brian Westbrook, but Levens is 34 years old, which might be 134 in RB years. Westbrook is among the league's most exciting players but was hampered by injuries last season. If he holds up, the running game will be fine. FB Jon Ritchie is a powerful blocker and reliable receiver who should have an expanded role in the passing game. Grade: B-minus.

Receivers: Owens gives McNabb the big-play receiver he has always lacked. The biggest question with Owens revolves around his reputation as a selfish player who can poison a locker room. So far, so good. His presence should create more opportunities for Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. Pinkston took a step back last year. Greg Lewis and/or Billy McMullen could be factors. Second-year TE L.J. Smith is a potential star, but veteran Chad Lewis is one of McNabb's favorite outlets. Grade: B.

Offensive linemen: Aside from Andrews, this unit has been together for most of the last four seasons. OTs Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas were both at the Pro Bowl, though Thomas made it on reputation. Runyan gets better every season. OLG Jermane Mayberry, who missed most of last season with an elbow injury, is just one year removed from the Pro Bowl. C Hank Fraley is steady. Andrews has been very impressive at right guard. The Eagles are counting on Artis Hicks to be their versatile backup. Grade: B-minus.

Defensive linemen: There is plenty of depth but just as much uncertainty. Kearse gives them a top-flight pass rusher, but injuries are a concern. Elsewhere at end, N.D. Kalu (knee) is already out for the year. Derrick Burgess, who missed most of the past two seasons, could emerge as the best of the group. Jerome McDougle is hoping to improve upon a sackless rookie season, and old friend Hugh Douglas, who was released by the Jaguars, was quickly snatched up to shore up the lack of depth. He was also one of the team's leaders in his previous stint in Philly. DTs Corey Simon and Darwin Walker form one of the league's best tandems. Sam Rayburn, one of the most pleasant surprises from last season, is part of the rotation with veteran Hollis Thomas and possibly Paul Grasmanis. Grade: A-minus.

Linebackers: Once again, there is a new trio in town. MLB Mark Simoneau held off a preseason challenge from Jeremiah Trotter to keep his job, though Trotter will be on the field a lot. Jones has the tough job of replacing Emmons, who was the team's best defensive player last season. Nate Wayne is coming off a subpar year but enjoyed a solid preseason. Ike Reese can fill in at all three spots. Grade: B-minus.

Defensive backs: The biggest question mark on the team is at cornerback. Third-year CBs Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard are being counted on to replace a pair of veterans in Taylor and Vincent. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's blitz-happy scheme should help them. If healthy, FS Brian Dawkins is one of the league's elite players. Third-year SS Michael Lewis is a future Pro Bowler. Nickel CB Roderick Hood may be the team's best cover corner. Grade: C-plus.

Special teams: PK David Akers, LS Mike Bartrum and Detmer, the holder, are all superb. P Dirk Johnson proved he belongs in the NFL but must improve his consistency. Rookie S J.R. Reed and second-year RB Reno Mahe will handle the return duties in an effort to reduce Westbrook's workload, though Westbrook will be back there in clutch situations. Reese, LB Keith Adams and WR Sean Morey are top core players. Grade: A.

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